Studies Prove the Benefits of Mentors, So How Do You Find Them?
No matter how much success you've achieved, you can always learn more.
Mentorship might seem like a quaint idea reserved for young, fledgling professionals just starting to spread their wings. Studies have found, however, that mentors predict a greater chance of success even for entrepreneurs who already have considerable experience of their own. Successful startups are more likely to be led by entrepreneurs that have been taken under the wing by a more experienced mentor.
These findings beg the question: How does one find a mentor? Finding a mentor seems particularly problematic for more experienced entrepreneurs and executives. We are no longer rookies or interns who can learn on the job from our superiors. We are the superiors. Fortunately, the growth of mentorship among entrepreneurs and the C-suite provides some guidance on finding a mentor right for you.
Check your ego
First, check your ego at the door, even if that door opens to your exclusive corner office. In my experience, many executives and entrepreneurs consider a mentorship to be a sign of weakness. This bias is positively correlated to the more experience, and success, they have achieved. Why seek guidance from another when you have already succeeded? My only answer to this is consider Bill Gates. Gates has publicly acknowledged his continuing mentee/mentor relationship with Warren Buffet. Gates knows that, no matter how much success he has achieved, he can always learn more. Setting your ego aside is the first step to finding a mentor who can expand your knowledge.
Find someone you can trust
More experienced professionals often feel like they are trapped in the competitive setting. Those who have the information they deem most valuable are often their fellow executives at the firm or their competitive rivals at other firms. This competitive mindset fosters excessive distrust in confiding in and asking guidance from another. Likewise, those with the information you consider most valuable are unlikely to trust you, nor should they, if it presents competitive disadvantage.
The trust problem can be solved by expanding your search for a mentor outside the competitive landscape. As the Gates-Buffet relationship illustrates, finding a mentor from another industry is one solution. Retirees are another great source for mentors. In the entrepreneurial setting, mentors can come from angel investors or venture capital firms. Finding a mentor you can trust means that neither party has an interest in withholding or exploiting knowledge at the other party’s expense. You might be justified in your trust concerns, but they can be addressed by looking for a mentor beyond the competitive landscape.
Consider a formal relationship
The evidence linking mentorships with business success has led to the growth of formal mentorship programs and consulting firms. The latter exist at large companies, such as Disney's partnership between its executives and technology start-ups. Your firm might be able to partner with a major corporation that sees the value of mentorships in building the human capital of its potential suppliers or targets for acquisitions. Meanwhile, there are a growing number of consulting firms, such as Endeavor, SCORE, and MENTOR, that broker relationships between mentees and mentors.
Don’t let your ego, distrust, or experience dissuade you from the opportunities of finding a mentor. Mentors are proven to advance careers, startups, and the knowledge of even the most successful of business leaders. If being a mentee is good enough for Bill Gates, it’s probably good for the rest of us.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor